Press Clip Source: Humanity United
Written By: Sheldon Wardwell
Date: August 21, 2014
Read Original Article: Here
Former Humanity United intern, Sheldon Wardwell, has been a Protection Officer with Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan since December 2013. We asked him to share his perspectives with us. He wrote the following on his phone, under a tree in the UN base in Bentiu, South Sudan.
The situation here in South Sudan is very complicated and seldom understood. At the moment, we have tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) living in a UN base in Bentiu for fear of their lives. Despite everyone’s efforts (NGOs and the UN), the conditions at the base (distinguished as a Protection of Civilians site) are unlivable. The camp has been entirely flooded, and people are suffering and dying at extremely high rates. Let me give you a little more background:
I arrived in South Sudan on December 11 last year for my new job as a Protection Officer with Nonviolent Peaceforce. Four days later, a terrible civil war began.
Without placing blame on any particular side of the conflict, I can say that armed actors and innocent civilians alike have been the targets and victims of unimaginable violence, murder and rape. Whole communities and cities have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. I have personally witnessed the destruction and looting of whole communities, including the twin-towns of Bentiu and Rubkona, where I currently live. I have driven down roads in this area lined with the dead bodies of civilians and soldiers on more than a couple occasions.
Even more heartbreaking, from my own experience, has been the numerous times I accompanied mothers to bury their small children outside the base due to preventable diseases.
When violence consumes communities, options for immediate survival are limited: flee to the bush, to a nearby country, or to a UN base. However, the medium-term challenges to conflict and displacement, namely disease and food insecurity, are often the biggest killers in South Sudan. Since January, I have worked in the UN base in Bentiu, Unity State, an area that has experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the war and currently hosts the largest IDP population of any UN base in the country. Here, together with a handful of other NGOs – providing various services from protection (like my NGO) to food, water, health and sanitation – we have tried to support the settlement of around 40,000 IDPs. To try to paint a clearer picture of what this entails, imagine building a city overnight in a low-lying swampy area, with very little equipment, in one of the most remote and logistically challenging regions in the world, while an active war outside threatens the security of civilians and international staff.
The settlement here in UNMISS Bentiu has completely flooded in recent weeks as the rainy season has set in. Tens of thousands of helpless civilians, primarily women and children, are currently stuck here living in flooded shelters exposed to water and open sewage. For fear of their lives, these people cannot move to areas with better conditions.
My experience since December has been disheartening, but these floods are a new low. We are bracing once again for serious fighting to resume in this area in the coming days. I worry what tomorrow and beyond will bring for these long suffering innocent civilians.
We want to see progress in the peace talks in Addis. We want to see a political solution at the national level. We want to see and support local and regional efforts at peace and reconciliation processes. Those things cannot come soon enough for the IDPs in Bentiu. In the meantime we do what we can to help them and try not to lose heart.